Transformational Teachers Answer Questions
Terminal Cancer "My mother has terminal cancer and doesn't want to talk about it. How can I make our last months together the best they can be?" Answer by Dr. Bernie SiegelIs Honesty Always the Best Policy? Are there circumstances in which it is more loving to tell "little white lies" or to omit information, or should I be honest always? Answer by Dan Millman
Higher Self or Ego "How do we know if the motivation for what we do comes from ego or something higher? For example, if we help someone else, how do we know if we are guided by the desire to be needed or approved of or, as an expression of love and compassion? And does the source of motivation matter?" Answer by Swami Chetanananda
Is this as good as it gets? "I have been a spiritual seeker for years. I journal, meditate, maintain a healthy diet, exercise, work a decent job, etc., yet periodically I fall into agonizing depression. Is there a way out of this cycle or is this as good as it gets?" Answer by Shakti Gawain
Overcome by Grief "My fifteen-year-old son was killed in a car accident. A year later my husband left me. It has been over two years since my son died and I'm still reeling. My job no longer makes sense and I don't have family around for support. What can I do to get my life in order?" Answer by Charles Whitfield
Dreams, what good are they? I have been in therapy for some time and my therapist has encouraged me to participate in a dream group. I'm interested but skeptical and wonder when dream work is self-indulgent and when it has a redeeming value. What purpose does it serve? Answer by Jeremy Taylor
My Life Has Fallen Apart For years I felt I had a great life. Everything was easy. I traveled, met fascinating people and my extended family helped me build a thriving business. A year ago, everything changed. I went through bankruptcy and now family relationships are strained. I remember being grateful for my life before, but I am unable to feel that way now. How do I find peace when my life is turned upside down? Answer by Nancy Napier
Dealing with Shame Shame has been with me as long as I can remember. Thank God, I feel it much less than I used to. However, I still feel flashes of unworthiness at times. I know my personal history and the source of shame in my psyche. I've done lots of psychological work. Will I ever be free of shame? It would be a blessing. Answer by Doris Helge
Coping With AIDS My son has AIDS and is dying. Even though these are "enlightened days" my husband has not accepted our son's homosexuality and cannot face his approaching death. Is there some way to help my son and husband through this? Answer by Barbara Whitfield
Dreaming about Snakes I have recorded and discussed dreams for the past 10 years. For the past couple of years I have been dreaming about snakes. I am in a dream group and others have had snake dreams also. The feedback from the group has been invaluable. These dreams seem significant and I am seeking additional input about snakes as a symbol and/or ways to approach the dreams. Answer by Robert Moss
Caught in a Tangled Web I don't know what to do. I'm a 47-year-old successful businessman with a wife and two kids who are now in college. I've lived by spiritual principles and tried to be a good man. I've been faithful to my wife until this last year when I fell in love with a beautiful younger woman. My business partner has distanced himself from me; my wife doesn't know and I can't bear to hurt her. I don't want to destroy my family life yet I can't give up this relationship and the love I feel for this woman. How do I sort this out? Answer by Marilyn Barrick
Breaking Free I read about women coming into their own after 50, but here I am, age 54, soft-spoken, and not wanting to hurt other people's feelings. I'm not speaking up for myself even though I want to make some changes. How do I break free? Answer by Sue Patton Thoele
Relieving Tension In recent years I've realized how tense I am. My back muscles readily tighten, I'm prone to worry and anxiety, and my outlook tends to be cautious—especially when I'm fatigued. I'm becoming more relaxed and I know that the roots of my tension come from my childhood. I've done a lot of psychological work but my patterns of worry and anxiety are pervasive. Any suggestions? Answer by Belleruth Naparstek
Confused About Prayer I'm confused. I read that true prayer is resting in silence, being with God, waiting for the word of God; however, I come from a tradition that petitions God for healing, protection, and wisdom. Am I imposing my ego and desires on God's will when I petition God for help? How should I pray? Answer by Ron Roth
I Don't Love My Job My employer, a large corporation, provides ample income and benefits that provide well for my family. My family is my top priority, yet my job is unfulfilling. My heart yearns to be an educator with inner city youth, but the money is not there. Seems that I have to choose between two priorities, my family and my career. What do you advise? Answer by Marsha Sinetar
Coping With the Past I'm going through a phase in which I'm discovering and feeling anger and disappointment that has been buried for years. This is difficult not only for me but also for people around me. I know I need to face all of these feelings, but if I do, I risk alienating those I love. How do my family and I get through this? Answer by Jacquelyn Small
A Spiritual "Dry Spell" I continue with my daily prayer and meditation time, even though my inner life feels arid. For the past few months, I can find no peace or spiritual connection, whereas my spiritual practice usually centers and nourishes me. I go about my daily business, but something is missing and I don't know what it is. There have been no changes in my life, which until now, seems fulfilling. Any advice? Answer by Elizabeth Harper Neeld
Understanding Sibling Death My sister unexpectedly died a few years ago. My acute grief has subsided but I still wonder about what happened to her. Sometimes I sense her and feel a connection, as if she is still here. Other, older family members have died and I don't experience them, except in my memory and in my heart. I don't know what to make of this. How can I understand this? Answer by Sukie Miller
I'm a nice person, but grumpy."Even though I start out the day with good intentions to be kind to others, I find myself being grumpy and grouchy when others approach me. I really am a nice person. What can I do to get out of this destructive rut?" Answer by Gay & Kathlyn Hendricks
Dealing with Racism We were raised in Alabama and although we've moved on, my brother is still racist. His youngest daughter has a bi-racial child and my brother is struggling to accept this child as well as the African-American father. My niece wants her father's blessings on her life and feels hurt. I ache for them all. Is there anything I can do besides listen, support and encourage? Answer by Aeeshah Ababio & Kokomon Clottey
Finding Ms. Right I am a 47-year-old male and have been divorced for several years. I yearn for a committed relationship. I recently ended a six-month relationship. I knew it wasn't right because she didn't communicate, but I so want to remarry that I overlooked her avoidance of intimate talk until the relationship simply faded away. What do I do now to be in the kind of relationship I desire? Answer by Cherie Carter-Scott
Seeking Commitment I've been involved with a wonderful man for three years. There is so much right about our relationship and we love one another deeply. Unfortunately, there's a hitch. I'm ready to get married and he believes the relationship is better without commitment, saying that marriage ruins love relationships. We live together and he wants to continue as we are. In my heart, I don't feel that is true, and want a marriage partnership. What should I do? Answer by Charlotte Sophia Kasl
Caring for Mom I have been estranged from my mother for many years. A year ago, she moved to the city where I live to be closer to me during her final years. She is increasingly debilitated with Alzheimer's. I check on her daily and tend to her errands. Always irritable and critical, her personality is becoming more difficult to deal with. She has driven everyone away and turned to me, her only daughter, to care for her. I will provide for her, but this will be one of the biggest challenges of my life. Some days I think I can't stand it. How can I get through this? Answer by Harriet Sarnoff Schiff
Diverging Paths My husband of many years and I have been long-term spiritual seekers. In recent years, our paths have separated. I have serious reservations about the direction he is taking. Although I know I must remain faithful to my own spiritual journey, I find it difficult to pursue my own course because he is critical of any path other than his. I love him, yet life together is increasingly painful. I am in my 50s and fear that we are headed for divorce. Can you offer any guidance? Answer by Jim Rosemergy
Wandering Eyes Please give me some guidance. I'm a 45-year-old married man and deeply committed to my spiritual life. I've got a problem I can't resolve. As the years go by I find myself more attracted to the youthful beauty of women in their 20s and less satisfied with my middle-aged wife's physique. I remain faithful to my wife but this is creating serious problems in me and with my marriage. Answer by Steven Harrison
Finding What's Missing I'm a 46-year-old professional woman. I have a good heart and people like me. However, my career is not thriving and my love life is the same. I've always yearned for a long-term committed relationship, which hasn't happened. I've tried it all—spiritual practices, psychotherapy, yoga, reading transformational books. I've come to terms with my life, yet still feel something is missing. Must I just accept what is or can I do something to move beyond surviving into thriving? Answer by Ronald Mann
"My mother has terminal cancer and doesn't want to talk about it. How can I make our last months together the best they can be?"
Dr. Bernie Siegel: There are many issues here. Number one, I would say that the fact that the mother doesn't want to talk about it is the mother's right and option. It's not about whether that's the healthiest approach of all, because it isn't in the sense of what it may do for the mother to keep it in and try to deny it or not discuss it because she thinks she's doing the daughter a favor.
What your mother needs is love. She doesn't need advice. If you just come in and say, "How are you feeling, what's going on in your mind, what are you thinking about?" what you're saying to your mother is you are willing to hear whatever her answer is. So, if you come in and say, "Mom, what are you thinking about?" and she says, "Well, isn't it a lovely day," she's saying to you that she doesn't want to talk about her illness.
You can also walk in and sit down with your mother and say, "Hey, mom, I've got a problem." This may sound crazy, but you'd be amazed at just how much more meaningful it now makes your mother's life if you walk in and say, "I'm not feeling well, I'm having a problem," and Mama will sit down and will feel useful by saying, "This is what you ought to do, honey." It's also okay to go to your mother and say, "I'm going to miss you," and cry about it.
Last but not least, tell stories, tell her to make a tape, write notes to leave some history. And again, if she wants to do it, fine. If she doesn't, or says, "I'm too tired or I need to take a nap now," okay. But, what you may find is, the next time you come back, she'll have more stories to tell.
People call me and say, "What should I do? My mother is dying." What do you feel like doing? Get out of your head and into your heart. My mother's comment that I grew up on, is, "What would make you happy?" If it'll make you happy to be with your mother, then get on a plane and go there! If you want to sit at her side 24 hours a day, then do it. But also remember that you have a life, too, so it's okay to say to your mother, "I'll be over later, I have to go shopping" or "The plumber is coming, I have to go to work." Whatever it is. Let it come from your heart and your mother will understand. If your mother knows she's loved, the love is there whether you are or not.
I'd say talk about your life, your past, what you're sorry for, happy about, need forgiveness for, and just resolve it all, and when you do that, the death, the parting, is really peaceful. Tears are appropriate when you lose your mother or the mother leaves a child, but if you know you've done what you've come here for, which is to create love, and if you need to say you're sorry for something, then say it. Then, the forgiveness is there and there's peace in all that happens.
If you think your mother is hanging onto life just for you, what you need to do is go in to your mother and say, "Mom, if you're tired and you need to go, it's okay. All of your children will be fine, your love will stay with us." Literally, many mothers choose to die when their children aren't in the room so that it's less trouble for the children.
Try to remember that the best part of a person stays, and stays forever. You'll see them in the houses and the trees, all the things that are here for love and out of love. Love is immortal and makes all things immortal. There's a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love.
So just be there for your mother, hold her hand; it's your presence that means so much. It says I love you and I care for you. You really don't have to say anything, it's just that you're there. If you show love, then that person's life is meaningful. That's what's important.
Bernie Siegel, M.D. is a former surgeon who now lectures throughout the United States. A pioneer in mind-body medicine, he is the best-selling author of Love, Medicine and Miracles and Peace, Love and Healing, and his newest book, Prescriptions for Living, a collection of inspirational lessons for a joyful, loving life. He lives with his wife in Connecticut.
I'm a nice person, but grumpy.
"Even though I start out the day with good intentions to be kind to others, I find myself being grumpy and grouchy when others approach me. I really am a nice person. What can I do to get out of this destructive rut?"
Gay Hendricks, Ph.D. & Kathlyn Hendricks, Ph.D.: This is a very important question, and we believe its answer reveals one of the most important psychospiritual lessons we human beings need to master.
The key is the phrase "good intentions." When you're in any life situation, you have conscious intentions--ones you know about—and you also have unconscious intentions—ones you don't know about. Unconscious intentions usually speak louder than conscious ones, at least until we make them conscious. If Bill Clinton has a conscious intention to be a good president, he also has unconscious intentions to get caught, look stupid and draw negative attention toward his sexual energy. If he's smart, he'll acknowledge his unconscious intentions as part of his healing process. One of our therapy clients—a powerful woman who's written books, made millions and done great philanthropic work—also had an unconscious intention to punish herself. How did she figure this out? She brought up the fact that she'd had over twenty auto accidents in her life, and none of them had injured anyone but herself! That's a statistical miracle in itself, but we asked her, "What would you say the intentions are of a person with that experience?" Immediately she realized that she tended to have an accident when things were going well, or just after a big success. Success conflicted with her ancient feelings of unworthiness and unloveability, so when she had a break-"through" she immediately needed to create a break-"down." This was her way of punishing herself. A beautiful thing happened after she acknowledged her unconscious intention to punish herself—she stopped having auto accidents. Unconscious intentions evaporate in the light of awareness. Often, all you have to do is look at them unflinchingly for a moment, and they dissolve into space.
This may sound simple, but it's one of the toughest things in the world. Acknowledging our unconscious intentions is one of the fastest paths to spiritual growth. It's so powerful and quick that we often fear it deeply. Our egos hold onto to the idea that we have "good intentions," and so to protect our egos we refuse to look at the obvious "bad" intentions we have. The best way to study unconscious commitments is through studying the results we complain about. So, if you complain that you don't have enough money, simply say "I'm committed to not having enough money and to complaining about it." This keeps life simple.
So, if "I find myself grouchy and grumpy when others approach me," acknowledge your unconscious commitment to being grouchy, grumpy and to distancing yourself from others. Inquire into where you may have gotten such a commitment established, learn from it, wonder about it. You may find that you un-grump yourself immediately and become that nice person you want to be.
Kathlyn Hendricks, Ph.D. and Gay Hendricks, Ph.D. are founders and directors of the Hendricks Institute. They work with individuals, couples and corporation and have 30 years experience as relationship therapists and psychospiritual teachers. They are authors of over 20 books, including Conscious Loving, At the Speed of Life, The Corporate Mystic and The 10-Second Miracle. They live in Santa Barbara, California.
Higher Self or Ego.
"How do we know if the motivation for what we do comes from ego or something higher? For example, if we help someone else, how do we know if we are guided by the desire to be needed or approved of or, as an expression of love and compassion? And does the source of motivation matter?"
Swami Chetanananda: Generally speaking, you don't know on the front side whether you are acting from ego or from some higher motive. As long as you are doing good work, you will learn in the process what is ego and what is true service. You will grow from this experience. The best test of motivation is how freely you give. Ask yourself whether you are giving without strings attached to your good work. Ask yourself what you expect in return. If you serve when you are called upon to do so, and you give freely and without strings attached, you are on the right track.
Swami Chetanananda is abbot of the Nityananda Institute, a spiritual community based in Portland, Oregon. He is the author of several books on spirituality, including Choose To Be Happy and Will I Be the Hero of My Life.
Is this as good as it gets?
"I have been a spiritual seeker for years. I journal, meditate, maintain a healthy diet, exercise, work a decent job, etc., yet periodically I fall into agonizing depression. Is there a way out of this cycle or is this as good as it gets?"
Shakti Gawain: As human beings we all have four important aspects to our lives—the spiritual, the mental, the emotional, and the physical. In order to experience wholeness and fulfillment in life we need to develop and express all four of these aspects in a fairly balanced way. We need to have some type of spiritual practice that helps us stay connected to our soul. We need to examine our ideas, letting go of old beliefs that no longer serve us and opening to new ones that support our growth and development. We need to heal our old emotional wounds, and learn how to experience and communicate our feelings and needs. We need to care for our physical bodies, and learn how to provide for ourselves on the material plane.
It sounds like you are taking good care of yourself on the spiritual, mental, and physical levels, which is wonderful. Your depression is letting you know that there is deeper healing work for you to do on the emotional level. This is not unusual; most of us have many layers of emotional healing work to do at various times in our lives.
Many people who are highly developed spiritually and mentally think they don't have to do psychological work as well. They assume their spiritual practice will take care of it all. This is simply not true. While spiritual and emotional development are certainly linked, they require different kinds of work. Unfortunately, oftentimes our mental and spiritual ideas may be used as another way of denying our feeling.
Depression can be a complex problem, and there may be contributing genetic or biological factors. However, my experience is that depression is primarily rooted in the emotional level. It usually indicates we have some deep needs that are not being acknowledged or met—perhaps a need for greater emotional expression or for greater closeness or intimacy with others. Often depression is caused or compounded by an over-active inner perfectionist and critic. This shows up in a tendency to set impossibly high standards for yourself and then criticize yourself when you inevitably fall short. Underneath deep depression I usually find an inner child who is feeling hopeless about getting his or her needs met.
I recommend finding a good psychotherapist and doing some regular weekly work for a while. Ask around for recommendations and then interview therapists until you find one who can support you in honestly exploring your deep feelings and needs. Many therapists function primarily on the mental level and are overly analytical. Find one who is comfortable with her own feelings and so can help you get more comfortable with yours. The good news is, effective emotional healing is very real and possible. It just takes the right kind of support and some work. Here are some books that may be helpful: Embracing Your Inner Critic by Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone, Recovery of your Inner Child by Lucia Cappacione and The Four Levels of Healing by Shakti Gawain.
Shakti Gawain is the author of Creative Visualization, Living in the Light, The Path of Transformation and several other books. Shakti leads workshops internationally, and has facilitated thousands of people in learning to trust and act on their own inner truth, and in developing greater balance and wholeness in their lives. Shakti and her husband, Jim Burns, make their home in Mill Valley, California and on the island of Kauai.
Overcome by Grief
"My fifteen-year-old son was killed in a car accident. A year later my husband left me. It has been over two years since my son died and I'm still reeling. My job no longer makes sense and I don't have family around for support. What can I do to get my life in order?"
Charles Whitfield: You've had two major losses in the past two years and may not have been able to do the healing from their hurt—a healing process that we call grieving, grief work, or mourning. "Still reeling" suggests to me that you may not have grieved fully, or that you may have what I call "stuck" or ungrieved grief stored up inside you, like an abscess under the skin that is waiting to drain. The abscess under the skin is perhaps manifested by your experience of "reeling," and having a senseless job and a disordered life.
In such a situation, how can we grieve, and thereby heal? It's usually best to avoid taking psychoactive drugs such as alcohol or prescription drugs, since they can slow the grieving process. It's also good to avoid being around people who may invalidate your pain, e.g. those who may say things like "Get over it," or "You should be over that by now."
Honor your feelings as they come up. Feel them and express them to safe people, and/or write them down in your diary or journal. You may want to consider joining a self-help group like Compassionate Friends, which helps parents grieve a lost child. Take as long as you need to grieve. There is no time limit on grieving.
Regarding the loss of your husband: it's often harder to grieve the loss of a person with whom you've had a lot of conflict, and by contrast, a conflict-free relationship tends to be easier to grieve.
Our society is oriented to avoiding grief work. For example, "mental health" systems and other helping professionals routinely mislabel grieving people as being "depressed" or otherwise "mentally ill," when actually they are only trying to grieve.
The losses of a child and husband are, of course, real losses. Other losses include any traumas of childhood—such as experiencing child abuse and neglect. These have the same impact and dynamics as any big losses, and also need to be grieved.
Charles Whitfield, M.D., is in private practice in Atlanta, Georgia, where he assists trauma survivors and spiritual seekers. He is the author of several books: Healing the Child Within, A Gift to Myself, Co-dependence—Healing the Human Condition, Boundaries and Relationships, and Memory and Abuse. He is currently completing a new book on A Course in Miracles. He teaches each summer at the Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Dreams, what good are they?
I have been in therapy for some time and my therapist has encouraged me to participate in a dream group. I'm interested but skeptical and wonder when dream work is self-indulgent and when it has a redeeming value. What purpose does it serve?
Jeremy Taylor: The scientific evidence is: all human beings dream every night, whether or not we remember these sleeping adventures or not. Thus, anyone who says, "I don't dream!" is simply confessing that he/she is failing to pay attention to this universal aspect of human experience. The universality of the phenomenon of dreaming is reason enough to be interested in it, and when you add to that the fact that individual dreams always have immensely valuable information (albeit usually in confusing symbolic form) to convey to the dreamer's waking mind, then paying regular attention to dreams becomes an exciting and productive activity.
Thirty years of work in the field, exploring something well in excess of 100,000 dreams has convinced me that all dreams come in the service of health and wholeness and speak a universal language of metaphor and symbol. One of the generic "messages" of every remembered dream is: "There is a potentially positive and creative role for the dreamer's waking consciousness to play in the further unfoldment of the issues and events that are given symbolic shape in this dream"
This is true even and particularly of those seemingly irredeemable and nasty dreams we call "nightmares." In my experience, the specialized generic message of every nightmare is "Wake up! Pay attention! There is a survival issue at stake in your waking life that you can do something positive about, if you only notice it in time!" The nastier the immediate experience of the nightmare, the surer you can be that it contains information of particular potential use, value, and importance. Sometimes, the nightmare will draw our waking attention to survival issues relating to physical health and well-being, but more often, it warns us about threats to the "survival" of the dreamer's authentic self, (what the Zen Buddhists sometimes call, "your face before you were born"), which is most often jeopardized by the bogus internalized demands of social convention and its ever-present companion, self-deception.
Paying regular attention to dreams is the single most reliable method of confronting and combatting self-deception that I know.
The practical problem, of course, is that the dreams usually seem so confusing and nonsensical upon first reflection. One of the reasons for this is that dreams themselves are the workshop of evolution, and thus every dream is right at the boundary of what the partially evolved waking personality is capable of seeing and comprehending at that moment. One of the things this means is that every person is uniquely blind to the deeper meanings of his/her own dreams; in other words, one of the hardest things in the world to do is for any person to easily see the deeper meanings of his or her own dreams in solitude.
The best solution to this problem is to share one's dreams with others and get the benefit of the fresh eyes and ears with which they are able to "see" and hear my dreams. Because the symbolic language of the dream is, in fact, universal, the likelihood that the guesses, speculations and projections that others are drawn to share about the meanings they see in my dreams will awaken the archetypal "aha!" of recognition that is the only reliable touchstone in this fascinating and deeply productive work.
In this sense, every remembered dream is "about" the person whom the dreamer is growing and evolving into. These developments of personality, character, and creative inspiration/manifestation will sometimes percolate to the surface of waking awareness eventually, in some form or another, whether or not the dreamer is paying attention to his/her dreams, but the practice of keeping track of dreams and sharing them with others can enhance, deepen, and accelerate this process of personal transformation in extraordinary and amusing ways.
Jeremy Taylor is a Unitarian Universalist minister, author of Dream Work, Where People Fly & Water Runs Up Hill, and The Living Labyrinth, co-founder and past president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams. Jeremy lives and works in the San Francisco Bay area. He and his wife, Kathryn, lead "Myth and Dream Tours" focused on the sacred narratives and celebrations of other cultures and their universal/archetypal layers of meaning. www.jeremytaylor.com
My Life Has Fallen Apart
For years I felt I had a great life. Everything was easy. I traveled, met fascinating people and my extended family helped me build a thriving business. A year ago, everything changed. I went through bankruptcy and now family relationships are strained. I remember being grateful for my life before, but I am unable to feel that way now. How do I find peace when my life is turned upside down?
Nancy Napier: When things fall apart, suddenly we are faced with the fundamental reality that the one constant in life is change, that inevitably things will never remain the same. At these times, we are offered an opportunity to deepen our trust and allow learning to unfold, even as we may also find ourselves faced with an experience of vulnerability and powerlessness.
If we are accustomed to having enough money, losing income and financial stability can bring about not only a crisis of faith, but a need to experience ourselves in a new way. While we were once self-sufficient and capable of meeting our own needs, suddenly we now must turn to others for help. The shift from being financially secure to financially unstable can be a profound emotional experience, opening up feelings of helplessness that may be new to us. If our sense of who we are in the world is tied to the job we do, the title we carry, the career we have shaped for ourselves, when work fails us we may enter into an identity crisis, a sense of not knowing who we are or what makes us valuable.
Experiences such as these invite us to turn to something less tangible than the ways in which we measure our lives materially. Fundamental to finding peace during times of change is the awareness that to have our lives turned upside down isn't a sign that we are doing something wrong. Rather, it's a sign that life is continuing on its natural and inevitable course, creating change, opening us up to new learning and spiritual deepening. If we have a belief in something greater than ourselves, the journey can take us further into our relationship with the divine. At times like these, we are faced with the need to explore our relationship to faith and our willingness to create learning opportunities in whatever experiences life brings our way.
One of the most powerful places of peace, for me, is the still point that's found between the out-breath and the next in-breath. By learning to travel to the "bottom of the breath" and find the still point that exists within the gap between breaths, we can find a home base that becomes a reliable resting place. For example, take a moment to imagine that within and behind every single thought, feeling, sensation, action, or urge that you have is a fundamental, ever-present, all-enfolding stillness. The stillness is both infinite and intimate—a presence you can "lean into" when you need to re-center yourself or take some time simply to be. Being in the stillness doesn't mean stopping all your thoughts and feelings. It just means that you have a place where you can find support while upsetting or vulnerable thoughts and feelings move through.
A helpful and empowering state of mind/being is that of "no struggle." A stance of "no struggle" is an active, empowered surrender to what is not in our control, rather than a passive response to helplessness. Whatever life may challenge us with at any given time, when we meet it with no struggle we conserve our energy and awareness for what we can do and allow what we can't change to move on by. It helps to remember that, just as the good times tend to change, the bad times will, as well. Whatever the crisis, it will eventually shift and become something else. It may take time, and we may have no idea what is coming, but that change will happen is inescapable.
Nancy J. Napier is a marriage and family therapist in private practice in New York City. She is the author of Getting Through the Day and Recreating Your Self. She leads workshops for professionals and the public on spiritual and psychological wholeness and other topics.
Coping With AIDS
My son has AIDS and is dying. Even though these are "enlightened days" my husband has not accepted our son's homosexuality and cannot face his approaching death. Is there some way to help my son and husband through this?
Barbara Whitfield: My heart and prayers go out to you at this most painful time for you, your son, and your husband. I can tell you how I have helped others in times like this but obviously, you must work this out in your own way and in your own time. That is, this is your time to "stand in the light of your own soul," being faithful to your wants and needs while balancing your love for your son and your husband.
Since you are in this 24 hours a day, seven days a week, my first thought would be for you to find a support group in your area and get out and be with others in the same situation. You could ask your husband to go along or, if you prefer, go alone. If leaving is impossible, there are support groups on the Internet. I would also recommend that you seek counseling with a psychotherapist or counselor specializing in grief work.
I'm not sure of your spiritual beliefs, but I feel a strong connection to spirit and with my patient's permission, we pray together and ask for spirit to connect with us during these painful times. I tell my patient all he or she needs is "a little willingness," and we turn our worries and need to control every scene over to God, Goddess, Holy Spirit, whatever we are comfortable calling "It." "Standing in the light of your own soul" means staying faithful to your wants and needs, your love for these two special men in your life, and not interfering with their relationship problems. If your husband and/or your son can be approached on a spiritual level, ask them to pray with you and then step out of the way and watch spirit work. If not, you still have spirit with you and the help of a support group and counselor.
Another way to help your son, yourself and your husband (and other willing family members or friends) is to do "healing circles" with your son. The focus of healing circles is not a hands-on cure. Healing circles are more for comfort. We might not be able to heal a body overwhelmed with disease, but we can ease the pain of the dying person and the sorrow of the ones left behind by creating a ritual where we give energy and love. Something is shared between us—spirit or energy. It doesn't matter what we call "It," and it doesn't matter if we believe in it. All we need is the intention to want to help. We aren't looking for a cure. But a healing can take place in the soul if people share love.
This healing work is based on the idea that on a subtle level of reality, we are energy or we have energy flowing through us. The entire universe is made of this energy and all of us can be instruments or conduits of an even greater energy simply by asking. That greater energy is healing and comforting, and through us as its messengers, healing energy and comfort are passed on to our sick or dying loved one.
Your son is in physical pain and probably feels psychological and emotional pain not only within himself but also from others he loves. What you do may help relieve his physical pain and ease the emotional pain and anxiety he has and is getting from others.
Sit comfortably on the bed on your son's right, close to him. Visualize energy flowing out of the giver's right hand and then being taken back in by the left hand. The person leading the healing ceremony keeps his or her left hand higher up on the receiver's body than the right. This moves the energy flow up the receiver's body so the healing energy moves from toe to head. I like to place my right hand on the tummy and my left over the heart or forehead, but this depends on the patient. Place your hands where both of you are comfortable. Others can place their hands on his head, feet, or sides of the trunk.
If everyone is comfortable with prayer, say what comes from your heart, such as "Dear God, Dear Spirit, please make us instruments of your healing energy, your love, your oneness, and your wisdom. Please help us to get out of the way so you may come through."
You may want to play soft music, close your eyes, and for fifteen or twenty minutes sit together quietly keeping the contact. At the end of the session, the patient is usually peaceful and relaxed. Consider a closing prayer: "Dear God, thank you for allowing us to be instruments of your love."
The intention of helping is all that is needed to conduct a healing ceremony. There is no skill involved, just the desire to help someone you care about. Practice the ceremony once or twice a day depending on the receiver's wants and needs.
Barbara Harris Whitfield, author of Full Circle: The Near-Death Experience and Beyond, is a researcher, near-death experiencer and transpersonal body-centered therapist in private practice in Baltimore and Atlanta. Ms. Whitfield spent six years researching the aftereffects of the near-death experience at the University of Connecticut Medical School. She is a board member of the Kundalini Research Network, was on the executive board of the International Association for Near-Death Studies, and is a consulting editor and contributor for the Journal of Near-Death Studies.
Dealing with Shame
Shame has been with me as long as I can remember. Thank God, I feel it much less than I used to. However, I still feel flashes of unworthiness at times. I know my personal history and the source of shame in my psyche. I've done lots of psychological work. Will I ever be free of shame? It would be a blessing.
Doris Helge: We all have feelings of unworthiness or shame, and most of us want to banish them so we can feel more worthy and self-confident. A multitude of techniques for "letting go" of negative feelings have been designed. They work to a degree. Yet most of us discover that when we push strong, unpleasant feelings such as shame, anger, fear, and sadness away, they return to our doorstep. In fact, usually the feelings are magnified!
The unpleasant feelings we judge so harshly arise specifically so we can dance into new layers of joy, self-worth, love, and peace. Negative emotions are innate resources. We just have to learn how to use them—not feel victimized by them.
If we tried to shield our children from ever experiencing painful events, they would grow up to be shallow individuals unprepared to meet life on its own terms. The same is true for us.
Your past experiences have shaped your life. You're a stronger and more compassionate person than someone who hasn't faced your difficulties. Your unpleasant experiences have served you, even though you wouldn't wish them on anyone. It is our discomfort in life that drives us onward. We decide we want and deserve more and better.
When we allow ourselves to experience—vs. resist—feelings of unworthiness, we graduate to higher levels of self-confidence and happiness. This is because pain and pleasure sit side by side in our brains.
Begin to picture your unpleasant feelings as compost piles that are nourishing and creating higher levels of joy and self-love, and you will stop judging them and labeling them as "bad." You will simply experience them and amazed at how quickly your negative feelings change on their own.
Think of a time when you tried to avoid being in a grumpy mood. Chances are the more you battled your mood—trying to change it and to be pleasing to others—the longer you felt out of sorts. When you finally gave in and admitted to yourself or others that you felt grumpy, you were probably surprised at how fast your grumpiness transformed into a positive mood.
The way to a beautiful oasis is through the heart of the desert. The trip through the desert is much faster and easier when we don't dawdle, wailing and berating ourselves for planning a walk through the intense heat. Judgment is truly a self-created prison.
Life was never meant to be a struggle, even though our culture has made struggle an art form. Shame and feelings of unworthiness are simply a part of the human experience. We're here to experience the totality of life and to grow in the process.
Why is it that babies grow and develop so much more rapidly than adults? You've noticed that babies cry one minute and laugh the next. Generally, they have profound energy and zest for life. Babies don't judge the circumstances of life or agonize over why they feel unpleasant feelings. Therefore, they bound from one learning experience to the next and are generally happy.
We can zip through our challenges with the speed of an infant or a small child once we learn how to use unpleasant feelings such as shame or unworthiness to propel ourselves to their opposites—the self-confidence, self-love, and joy we have been seeking.
Doris Helge, Ph.D., is author of Transforming Pain Into Power—Making the Most of Your Emotions and journal and magazine articles. The book includes a workbook to help transform painful experiences into personal empowerment. Dr. Helge presents keynotes, seminars and workshops internationally, and works with Fortune 500 and other companies.
Is Honesty Always the Best Policy?
Are there circumstances in which it is more loving to tell "little white lies" or to omit information, or should I be honest always?
Dan Millman: A bigger question floats above the obvious—a question of realism and idealism, two (apparently) opposing schools of thought in our conditional world of duality. Realists call idealists "foolish dreamers who create one catastrophic experiment after another." Idealists may liken realists to "Machiavellian cynics and apologists of mediocrity."
Religion is about calling us to our highest ideals. Politics is the art of the realistic. Perhaps this is why we have wisely separated Church and State, like keeping apart quarreling children who just don't understand one another's views well at all. Issues of abortion, gun control, tax and campaign reform all have their idealists and realists. In fact, one can view any issue, including honesty, through either of these polarized lenses.
Idealists would say, "Always tell the truth. In the long run it is best. It may hurt, but the truth is the truth." But whose truth? If a little girl and aspiring artist asks if you think her drawing is pretty but you do not, what do you say? If a man in a murderous rage is chasing a young woman running for her life, and asks you if she ran to the right or left and you saw which way she went, how do you respond? With the truth?
Realists use truth pragmatically. White lies have functional value. The danger is that they may be self-serving, and white lies turn darker in the shadows of self-deception.
The real question is, do we lie to ourselves? See ourselves, know ourselves, as we are, without the self-serving gloss? To me, this kind of truth is most important. If we come to see others and ourselves realistically, we develop the compassion to use language wisely. And when we face choices of whether to lie with kindness or use truth like a bludgeon, we choose well.
There are times when emphasizing a facet of the truth requires wisdom and kindness, for there are many truths. We need to apply higher principles, such as, "What is the courageous choice? The kindest choice? What is for the highest good of all concerned here?" rather than, "What will best serve my self-interest?"
Dan Millman is a former world champion athlete, college professor and coach. He is a speaker and the author of ten books including: "Way of the Peaceful Warrior," "The life You Were Born to Live" and "Everyday Enlightenment." Dan is a youthful grandfather who lives with his family in northern California.
In recent years I've realized how tense I am. My back muscles readily tighten, I'm prone to worry and anxiety, and my outlook tends to be cautious—especially when I'm fatigued. I'm becoming more relaxed and I know that the roots of my tension come from my childhood. I've done a lot of psychological work but my patterns of worry and anxiety are pervasive. Any suggestions?
Belleruth Naparstek: I'm happy you asked this because you raise an important issue that many of us still get stuck on. As a psychotherapist, I was trained (35 years ago) to believe that once we cognitively understood the sources of our pain and distress, and wept a tear or two over it, it would go away.
But over the years, clinical experience kept showing me this was not necessarily the case—people can pretty much deal with issues from the past, and yet the patterns and habits of our bodyminds can persist anyway.
The solution seems to lie in retraining the mind to place its attention elsewhere, and to use the power and reach of the altered state to access the nourishing, peaceful, rich, and boundless resources in all of us.
What's lovely about this approach is that the more you use it, the better you get at it. After some practice, you can release tension and distress in seconds, before it has a chance to build up, and, instead, fill yourself with the healing forces of love and gratitude—not the fake, goody-two-shoes kind—but the real power of your own open heart.
I would suggest, for starters, that when you're feeling okay and not particularly tense, you practice the following, maybe twice a day for 10 minutes: Adopt a comfortable position, folding your hands across your belly or heart. This will become your "anchoring device," the posture you can repeat, even in public, when you feel yourself getting tense that will remind your soon-to-be conditioned body to settle back down.
Take a few deep, full, cleansing breaths, all the way down into your belly, and see if you can imagine the warm energy of your inbreath going to any tight places, warming, loosening, softening them, and then lifting them, so, with the turn of the breath, you are exhaling the discomfort with the out breath. Repeat this three or four times until you establish a slow, steady, even pattern. Keep your hands on your belly or chest so you can feel the rise of the body with the inbreath, and the way it subsides with the outbreath.
Now see if you can take a moment to notice how the inside of your body feels, traveling down from your head and neck (we want to get you out of your head!) into your shoulders, chest, belly, buttocks, thighs, calves and feet. As you check in with each area, breathe in and repeat to yourself: "My oldest friend, and steadiest companion;" with each outbreath, say, "Thank you." In this way, you express gratitude to your body for sticking with you this far, and holding up as best it can. This is powerful medicine, and even if you don't mean it at first because you hate your thighs or belly, I promise, you'll get there sooner than you can imagine.
Now imagine that you're surrounded by a cushion of energy (you are) and this cushion is gently vibrating and dancing on your skin, humming with power, sparkling and dancing with light and color, all around you. Each outbreath makes the cushion even denser, more palpable, so that it functions as a kind of protective filter, insulating you from whatever you don't want or need, but still allowing what's nourishing to come in.
Now imagine that this cushion is acting as a kind of magnet, drawing to its field every good wish, prayer, smile, gesture of gratitude that has ever been sent your way pulling them all in from all time and all places and filling the field around you.
Now sense in the cushion the presence of those who love you and guide you well past, present or future just the ones you want with you. If you can't come up with any people right away, that's okay dear pets, powerful ancestors, guardian angels, power animals, sweet spirits and magical beings can show up too, some familiar, some not, it doesn't matter just so you feel their protection and support. See if you can smell someone's familiar smell, feel the soft weight of a gentle touch (or nuzzle), hear the well-loved timbre of a certain voice so you are literally sensing your allies around you.
Now breathe in all that love and care, deep into the center of your heart and breathe out your own gratitude and just soak up the richness of it.
That's it. Do this for a few weeks, until it becomes automatic: i.e., you adopt that position and your heart opens and your face softens. The imagery will crowd out tension, fear, and the nattering worry in your head with the hugeness of your heart. It works every time.
But here's the thing: now that you have a powerful technique at your disposal, you have to pay attention to your insides so you know when to implement it—when you're starting to get tense. You have to lovingly police your body (your oldest friend and steadiest companion needs your protection!) so you can move into this mind state when it starts to carry on just out of habit.
Belleruth Naparstek is an author and nationally recognized pioneer in the field of guided imagery and intuition, best known for her popular "Health Journeys" guided imagery audio series. Her books include "Your Sixth Sense" and "Staying Well with Guided Imagery." She lives with her family in Cleveland, where she maintains her clinical practice, manages her audiotape company, consults, teaches, and writes.
Coping With the Past
I'm going through a phase in which I'm discovering and feeling anger and disappointment that has been buried for years. This is difficult not only for me but also for people around me. I know I need to face all of these feelings, but if I do, I risk alienating those I love. How do my family and I get through this?
Jacquelyn Small: The fact that your long-buried feelings of disappointment and anger are now rising to the surface is a good sign for your own healing process. There is a maxim amongst psychotherapists: "You can't heal it if you can't feel it." However, you need to find a good container for the expression of your pain so you can wring it all out of your heart. By "container" I mean a psychotherapist, a process-oriented body worker, or someone who understands emotional-release work, who can hold this energy for you in a safe and therapeutic setting. This way you won't have to "leak" it out inappropriately onto those you love unless, of course, these deep feelings pertain to any of them. Then it is appropriate to therapeutically express it to them in the presence of a good family counselor.
On another level, please know that these feelings belong not just to you personally right now, but to Humanity, our one collective Soul, as well. Disappointment, disillusionment, anger, and hopelessness are currently trans-individual: a universal archetype is up, a horrific aspect of Humanity's shadow. Kosovo, Colorado, our children's despair, terrorism and before that, Monica/Clinton and before that O.J. and the family violence theme all ravaging our TV screens for months. The great psychoanalyst Carl Jung said, "We can never separate from our archetypal roots any more than we can separate from the organs of our body;" we are part of a whole. At the surface of our psyches we feel as an individual; at the deepest source of our psyches, we feel universal. Crisis takes us to our source. These archetypal issues arise in the psyche like "steam" from a boiling pot, pleading to come out of denial to be owned and healed! Those who are the "sensitives" in our world pick up these feelings and make them known.
Some of your feelings of disappointment may be landing back on you, so please hear me when I say you are doing something quite natural and helpful for us all. Thank you for being so authentic. You have our support.
Jacquelyn Small is a pioneer in the emerging field of spiritual psychology, a speaker, writer, and leader in the area of personal and planetary transformation. She is the author of eight books on these subjects, including "Becoming Naturally Therapeutic," "Transformers," "Awakening in Time," and "Becoming A Practical Mystic." She heads her own healing/training institute, Eupsychia, and certifies students in Psychospiritual Integration. She lives in Austin, Texas.
I read about women coming into their own after 50, but here I am, age 54, soft-spoken, and not wanting to hurt other people's feelings. I'm not speaking up for myself even though I want to make some changes. How do I break free?
Sue Patton Thoele: Not being able to speak up for themselves and speak out about their wants, needs, and beliefs is a common lament from women of all ages. In fact, I have a wise friend who maintains that most women are "conflict-a-phobes." I know I could wear that label, and with good reason! Like most women—especially those over fifty—I was trained to appease, acquiesce, and act in a "lady-like" manner, which didn't include assertiveness, or easily speaking my truth.
Most women have a strong desire to be liked and accepted but may, instead, be judged and rejected when they speak up for themselves clearly and honestly. Gloria Steinem underscores that silencing technique when she says, "A man can be called ruthless if he bombs a country to oblivion. A woman can be called ruthless if she puts you on hold." Is it any wonder we keep silent?
That said, what's to be done about this dilemma?
First, we need to unlearn the societal messages that keep us uncomfortably silent and retrain ourselves to move beyond our fears into greater freedom and self-expression. Easily said, not easily done. I believe it's close to impossible to change life-long habits and limiting patterns of behavior without support and guidance from other women. We need hands to hold as we traverse the often-dark corridors of personal change.
Therefore, it's important that you find a support group of like-minded women, trusted friends, and/or a therapist who can guide and encourage you as you begin the changes you desire. These supporters can also help you ferret out the fears that lurk behind your hesitancy to speak out. For me, fear of rejection is my most effective and prevalent muzzle. Just yesterday, I needed to tell a friend that I wasn't comfortable with the tone of an article she'd written about me and I wanted some changes made. Before the call, I was a mess. Tearful, semi-nauseous and afraid my friend would be hurt or angry. Somehow I mustered the courage to make the call in spite of how I felt. I've learned that even though we may never feel totally comfortable with speaking our truth, we can choose to do so anyway.
In order to be truthful without hurting others' feelings, we need to be educated in the art of constructive communication. A savvy women's group or a competent therapist can teach you these communication skills and practice with you until you are adept at using them.
In a nutshell, to speak up and break free, it's important that you seek out the support and guidance of a therapist and/or group, courageously find and transform your self-limiting fears, and learn the skills that allow you to communicate clearly and constructively. Although speaking your truth may never feel absolutely comfy, it will certainly be freeing.
Sue Patton Thoele is a licensed psychotherapist who lives with her husband, Gene, in Colorado. Her passions include being with her children and grandchildren, writing, and swimming with free dolphins. She is the author of 10 books, including: "Freedoms After 50," "The Woman's Book of Confidence," "The Woman's Book of Courage," and "The Courage To Be Yourself."
Understanding Sibling Death
My sister unexpectedly died a few years ago. My acute grief has subsided but I still wonder about what happened to her. Sometimes I sense her and feel a connection, as if she is still here. Other, older family members have died and I don't experience them, except in my memory and in my heart. I don't know what to make of this. How can I understand this?
Sukie Miller: I am sorry to hear about your sister's death and not surprised that she may still be "with you." With the exception of the loss of a child, the loss of a sibling is a most difficult death from which to heal. That your sister's death was a sudden one, sadly, compounds the difficulty. According to other cultures and esoteric lore, the nature of your sister's death makes it an especially confusing time for her as well as for you. Your wondering is well founded. First some information and then some advice:
The death of a contemporary, unlike the death of a parent, uncle, aunt, or grandparent, is in no way expected. It is the natural order of life that other members of our original family will die before us. But not a sibling. We aren't prepared for the loss of a brother or sister.
Again, different from the case with other family members' deaths, the death of a contemporary evokes our own mortality. We are shaken by such a death like none other and we are affected by such a death as a mirror of ourselves and what is to come.
If we add to these facts the suddenness of your sister's death, then you are up against not only your grief, your own mortality, and your lack of preparedness for such a death, but also what is believed to be her experience as well. You are right when you say you don't know what to make of this. It is different from other deaths you have experienced.
According to lore, a sudden death is a most difficult death for the person who has died. They too have had no time to prepare. They too were not expecting the event. It is believed that those who suffer sudden death "hang around" those people and places familiar to them in their lives longer than others who die. They are said to do this because they are both getting accustomed to the fact that they are, in fact, dead, and because they are a little lost and not sure where to go. I think this lore may account for your sensing her. The experience, as you wisely delineate, is different than remembering.
I hope this helps you understand the differences between your experiences of those you love who have died.
Now for some advice and this is, if you will, "two-way" advice.
First, are you ready for your sister to move on? If you are, then I would suggest the following:
Find a quiet and peaceful place. Find a quiet and peaceful time. Speak to your sister. You may want to hold a recent photo of her or imagine her in your mind. Call her name and when you "sense her" or "feel connected" to her, explain to her that she has died and how she has died.
Tell her that it has been a few years since she died and that it is time now for her to make her journey. Tell her that it is said that people who love her and who are also dead are waiting to greet her and show her the way. Tell her she will be fine and that it is said that the journey is an interesting one.
If there is unfinished business between you and your sister, resolve it with her in your imagination. Take time to say goodbye to her, especially if you had no opportunity to do this when she died. Then, direct your sister to head for the light that is there and tell her that the light will guide her.
If, after you do this, you continue to sense her, just visualize her and remind her to "go for the light." It is said that this will help her find her way.
If you are not ready for your sister to move on, find out why. Prolonging these feelings is not helpful for either of you.
Thank you for writing and thank you for allowing me to answer your important question.
Sukie Miller, Ph.D., is a therapist, educator, author, and former member of the Board of the C.G. Jung Institute of San Francisco and an early director of Esalen Institute. She founded the Institute for the Study of the After death, an international research center for the development of cross-cultural information on what may happen to us after we die.
A Spiritual "Dry Spell"
I continue with my daily prayer and meditation time, even though my inner life feels arid. For the past few months, I can find no peace or spiritual connection, whereas my spiritual practice usually centers and nourishes me. I go about my daily business, but something is missing and I don't know what it is. There have been no changes in my life, which until now, seems fulfilling. Any advice?
Elizabeth Harper Neeld: One of the first images I think about when I hear that question is my grandfather, who was a farmer in middle Georgia. When I was a little girl, I spent much of the summer there. I would help him set out potato eyes, sweet potato slips, gather the corn from the cornfields, and check the progress of the cotton as it was growing. I would think about the long growing season, after the seeds were put in the ground or the slip was put in the ground or the potato eye was planted. It looked as if nothing was happening, particularly when the seeds were underground and we couldn't see any growth. And yet, the exact right thing was happening during that period.
I believe out of my own experience that in those arid periods, in those times when it is dry and we experience no movement and no connection with the sacred that we have felt in the past, the right thing is happening. It's happening internally, at a very deep level. When that period—whether it's an inner growth period, a transformation period, a reshaping of some of our inner life—ends, then we enter the next phase, just as my grandfather's plants entered the next phase and there would be visible growth. This led to the harvest, and the great baked sweet potato that we would slather butter on, or the Irish potatoes my grandmother would whip up to make potatoes and gravy. As with the seeds we planted in the soil, we don't know what is happening during some of the growth times, yet what is happening is positive and appropriate for our own individual lives, our own growth, our own transformation, our own development.
I believe everyone who dedicates herself or himself to a spiritual practice has these "dry spells." I've never met anybody yet who does not go through these arid periods at some point in their journey.
A second thing I think of in regards to these dry periods also relates to my grandfather's farm. I think of how, even decades ago, long before we knew as much as we know now about crop rotation and letting the field rest, my grandfather knew instinctively to let a field lie fallow during a planting cycle, or sometimes, for two or three years. I can remember asking him, "Grandpa, why don't you have something planted over here? You did last year when I was here." And he would say, "The land is resting." We know now how important it is to rotate the crops and feed the soil, so I also think about that in relation to the times that we don't feel anything, the times when we aren't stimulated to sparkling new growth, and we feel disconnected. It helps me to think that perhaps this is a fallow time in my spirit, a resting time, even though I don't feel restful internally.
Another way to think about this is that it is very pensive to measure the impact of our daily spiritual practice by feeling or by external happenings or by a feeling of flow or a feeling of being in sync. Of course, those are luscious times when we feel that, but no matter how dedicated we are to a spiritual practice, we don't always experience that.
I've been committed to a daily spiritual practice since 1980, and it truly has had ebbs and flows, times that were like a wonderful spring rain and times of dryness that were like a drought. I've learned over the years that the inner work is being done no matter how I experience things externally or how I experience things emotionally. The value of this daily spiritual practice, this quiet time and prayer, is there and is building, no matter what my experience of my external life or my emotional life might be. The way I know that for myself is that steadily, over the years, there has been a continuing increase in my having a sense of certainty that no matter what happened to me in life, I would be sustained. We all have sad things that happen, tragedies, horrifying things, things we don't like to have happen. One of the long-term outcomes of my daily spiritual practice—through the ebbs and the flows, the ups and the downs, the feeling good about it and the not feeling good, the feeling connected and the not feeling connected—has been and continues to be an increased certainty that I will be guided, sustained, encouraged, and given wisdom on how to deal with whatever came my way in life.
Elizabeth Harper Neeld is an independent scholar and corporate consultant to Fortune 500 companies in the field of change management. She teaches spiritual seminars and retreats, and is the lay director of the Women's Retreat Ministry. She lives in Austin, Texas.
Confused About Prayer
I'm confused. I read that true prayer is resting in silence, being with God, waiting for the word of God; however, I come from a tradition that petitions God for healing, protection, and wisdom. Am I imposing my ego and desires on God's will when I petition God for help? How should I pray?
Ron Roth: Basically, my discovery is that prayer is not a matter of doing as much as it's a matter of being. For example, in some specific situation, if there is a real need to petition, then petition. But if you feel that in this moment of conscious communion with God, you'd like to just express your gratitude, then express gratitude. This is more a matter of heart than words. It's a matter of talking, listening, and sometimes just being receptive and open to the divine grace that fills the universe. Prayer is about being open. It's about being receptive to the light energy of God, which is love. To be filled with God, I have to first empty myself, and I can begin to catch the wisdom of God, the counsel of God, the health, the provision of God, all that's needed in life. My intuition starts to open up. Pray whatever you're feeling at the moment. It's not the form that matters. It's the feelings of the heart, that conscious connection with the divine.
It is sometimes difficult to know if petitionary prayer is an expression of selfish desire. I tell people that if you don't get an answer, it's probably ego. Now, that may seem flippant, but there are times when you just don't know. If it's coming from the person's heart—you don't have money and need to eat—then it's not ego, that's coming from the heart. It's not praying for money just to be rich. I go back to the ancient sacred languages of Sanskrit and Aramaic. The word for prayer in Aramaic, slotcha, actually means setting a trap. What that means is setting your mind like a trap to catch the thoughts of God. In Sanskrit, the word is pal-al, and it means to see yourself as wondrously made. This is the essence of true prayer. If you're truly praying, moving through these forms of prayer, you begin to feel an energy rising that's enhancing your self-esteem, you're beginning to see yourself as worthy in the eyes of God. For most people, their difficulty with prayer comes because they don't feel God is going to answer because they're not worthy, perhaps because they've done something wrong in the past.
The intent of prayer is to have a conscious connection with the divine, the energy of God, the spirit of God, the love of God, that not only fills the whole universe, but is at the center of every individual's being. It is to make that conscious connection so that as you encounter obstacles and traumas in life, you have a tool to combat the fears, anxieties, and worries that confront everyone, even the holiest person on earth.
There are many methods of prayer. Prayer can take various forms; with Catholics, it might be rosary beads; with Hindus, it might be mala (phonetic) beads; some may say the names of God out loud, or chant it or whisper it; some may read sacred writings. Prayer can be vocalization, or as simple as taking a deep breath and bringing an affirmation to mind, "I am breathing in the love of God, I am breathing out the fear." Or, "I am breathing in divine health, I am breathing out sickness." Many religions emphasize the meditative aspect of prayer because that's when you have to shut up and listen, and that's where the guidance comes. Finally, there is the prayer of service, epitomized by the prayer of Saint Francis, "Make me a channel of your peace."
Ron Roth is a spiritual intuitive, teacher, and author. He served as a Roman Catholic priest for 25 years before founding Celebrating Life Institutes in Peru, Illinois, where he lives. He now teaches modern mysticism and healing through prayer to people of all faiths, and conducts seminars, workshops and retreats worldwide.
I Don't Love My Job
My employer, a large corporation, provides ample income and benefits that provide well for my family. My family is my top priority, yet my job is unfulfilling. My heart yearns to be an educator with inner city youth, but the money is not there. Seems that I have to choose between two priorities, my family and my career. What do you advise?
Marsha Sinetar: As you mull over your best options, here are some considerations to add to your stew of thoughts:
First, there's a hidden blessing in being faced with a dilemma such as this. Existential questions force us to re-examine what we truly value. The call for conscious choices wakes us up to the consequences of what we choose. You've acknowledged that there's a lot riding on your decision to stay or leave the corporate environment.
Second, by your own admission, you've already begun to set your house of diverse priorities in order since you say, "My family is my top priority." That's helpful. That tidbit of data clarifies a fuzzy issue, but I'm not sure an all-or-nothing choice is warranted yet. More about that in a second.
Third, perhaps most critical to your sorting-out process: Feeling torn in two by a conflict is not all negative. It's somehow purifying not to know—not knowing offers us a high mode of being from which to reflect on things. It may be the Zen Buddhists who suggest that the "don't know" mind is freeing—unattached, not rooted in this or that. In our Western tradition, when we don't know what to do we "cast our cares" in prayer: we turn the matter over to God who then, according to a divine timetable, handles the matter. This isn't as passive as one might imagine. Strong faith that answers will come plays a mighty role in our solutions. Here's where all-or-nothing thinking needs to be observed.
I tend to avoid either/or thinking—if I make such choices at all, it's at a snail's pace. I prefer not to polarize my thinking—not to fixate on one way as the "good" way and another as the unfulfilling. So often, deeper insight reveals a middle ground, a blended path, that leads to something tremendous—better than we ever dreamed of.
Here's more of what I mean as it relates to your inquiry:
Perhaps your corporation has a Public Affairs program wherein employees are volunteered to certain inner city projects. In my corporate development practice, some years ago an old, long-time corporate client (a Fortune 500-type firm) "donated" a few days of my time to a huge not-for-profit outfit. Most companies budget funds annually to support the United Way, the Boy Scouts, the Girl Scouts and other non-profit agencies. They use those monies to "loan" out executives or give scholarships or whatever. If it won't endanger how you're perceived by your management—that is, if it won't make you seem disloyal, disinterested in your career, the corporate vision and so on (and only you can figure that out)—consider investigating the existence of such programs.
To become an educator of any sort requires credentials, practice teaching and other professional preparations. Perhaps you can make a time-line with the input and help of your family so that, for the next few years, as you ready yourself for the career you want—saving money, fulfilling educational requirements—you fulfill family obligations.
No "expert" can tell you precisely what to do: For one thing, no "expert" knows your heart (in this case, you don't mention your age, your educational background, the age of your children, whether your spouse works, etc.) and no "expert" will have to live with the consequences of your ultimate decision. Sometimes we look to others to advise us because it sort of takes the heat off of us. However, each individual is responsible. Sorting through the subtle shadings of this issue could be one of your life's most growthful processes. For example, consider taking a spiritual retreat, or several. (A long weekend? Vacation time?) Use stillness, meditation, and other purifying disciplines to ponder your inquiry. In deep, silent meditation, you can contemplate the matter, remaining totally open to your "small still voice." Our tugs-of-war are teaching. If we can rid our mind of our preset models of how we imagine life ought to be, our "teacher" will show us what to do. For that lesson, we have to stay open—receive—our finest, spiritual insights.
Further research is in order: Who do you know that's made a similar transition and done it successfully? Might you get some tips from them? If you have a spiritual director, now's the time to enter a dialogue with him or her. How about journal work? (Read Progoff's "Journal Workshop," if you haven't already.) How about arranging a few sessions with a trusted, competent counselor to chew over the downside and the upside of either route?
We all know what free advice is worth. Nonetheless, here's mine: Your commitment to your family came first. Honor that first. Think of your "top priority"—your family obligations—as a course in school, like law school or medical school. You'll eventually graduate. Whatever you decide, I say, keep your day job while you pray, ponder, and fine-tune your intuitive antennae for life's answer. Remember the words of the prophet Isaiah, "Thine ears shall hear a word behind thee, saying, 'This is the way, walk ye in it.'" (Is. 30:21)
We've each got to be pretty still and grounded to hear that guiding word. Much success to you as you listen inwardly and as you choose.
Marsha Sinetar is an educator, corporate adviser, and best-selling author who lives in the Pacific Northwest.
Caught in a Tangled Web
I don't know what to do. I'm a 47-year-old successful businessman with a wife and two kids who are now in college. I've lived by spiritual principles and tried to be a good man. I've been faithful to my wife until this last year when I fell in love with a beautiful younger woman. My business partner has distanced himself from me; my wife doesn't know and I can't bear to hurt her. I don't want to destroy my family life yet I can't give up this relationship and the love I feel for this woman. How do I sort this out?
Marilyn Barrick: It is difficult to be in love with two women at once, especially when you know that whatever decision you make is going to hurt someone. Let's try a sorting-out process to guide you toward a decision.
First, tune into your thoughts and feelings in three possible scenarios. One: Do nothing and keep living a double life. Two: Leave your wife and try to make a go of it with the younger woman. Three: Stay with your wife and let go of the other woman. Imagine one scene at a time as though it were already a done deal. Probe your deepest thoughts and feelings and answer these questions: Am I in sync with my spiritual principles? Do I still think of myself as a good man? What are my good and not-so-good feelings in this scenario? Am I at peace with my decision? If not, why not?
Second, take an inventory of both relationships. Start with your wife. Your phrase, "I can't bear to hurt her," tells me you still have feelings for her. Think back to when you first fell in love and remember the good times you had as a couple and as a family over the years. Write down your thoughts and feelings as they were at the beginning of the relationship and as you have weathered the years together. Write down the pluses and minuses of the relationship with your wife.
Now think about the relationship with your new love. Reflect on the way you feel about her now, and how the relationship might be 20 years from now. Ask yourself, "How is she going to look at me when I am 67 and she is (?) How will I feel as she begins to age?" Write down your thoughts and feelings in the now, and in the projected future. Write down the pluses and minuses of this relationship now and 20 years hence.
Ask some tough questions: Scenario one: How will I feel about myself if I keep living a double life and my wife or children find out? What if their reactions are so intense that the younger woman can't cope with it? Am I being fair to her by continuing a relationship that has no future if I don't leave my wife? How will I handle it if I end up losing both relationships?
Scenario two: How will my wife take the break-up and divorce if I leave her? How will I feel knowing how much I am hurting her? How will our children react? How about my business partner, since he's already distancing himself? What will be the financial impact after property settlement, alimony and whatever it takes to help our children finish college?
Scenario three: How will my new love take the break-up if I leave her? How will I feel knowing I am hurting her? Will there be complications if she gets angry with me? What if she tells my wife and children we have been involved? How will I handle that? What if she tires of me over time and ends up leaving me for a younger man? How would I feel then?
Realistically, it isn't likely you can keep both situations going. In my 35 years as a psychotherapist, I haven't seen it work except in the movies. In real life, people get hurt. They experience the anguish of loss if nothing else, the loss of the dream of what might have been.
You have free will to choose, and no one can make this choice for you. However, let's consider other factors. There really is such a thing as "mid-life crisis," for men as well as women. Some of it is hormonal; much is psychological. We feel somehow younger and more virile when we are involved with younger people. All of us want to hold onto the springtime of youth and love.
In reality, we grow older and love changes as relationships move through time. I think of enduring relationships as Elizabeth Barrett Browning poetically described, "Grow old with me, the best is yet to come, the last for which the first was made." Growing pains in marriage can produce golden years of togetherness where we relax into being ourselves rather than the person someone else expects us to be. We learn to love the essence of one another and to put up with each other's flaws, which creates the blessed experience of being loved for who we really are.
Research indicates that couples who enjoy loving, satisfying marriages make a lifetime commitment to marriage; nurture their love and devotion; respect, trust and support one another; communicate openly; and encourage each other's individuality. Happy couples share values, time, and interests as well as sexual fulfillment and/or companionate love, the affection people feel for those with whom their lives are deeply entwined even when physical attraction wanes.
Whatever choice you make, strive to be true to self and Spirit. Pray for right discrimination, inner strength and the highest levels of compassion for everyone concerned as you make your decision and follow through. Take each step with prayerful, loving concern for all—including yourself.
Marilyn C. Barrick, Ph.D., has been a clinical psychologist and relationship counselor for more than thirty-five years. She has been a minister since 1976. In her private practice, she specializes in transformational work for healing the soul and Spirit. She lives in Paradise Valley, Montana.
Dealing with Racism
We were raised in Alabama and although we've moved on, my brother is still racist. His youngest daughter has a bi-racial child and my brother is struggling to accept this child as well as the African-American father. My niece wants her father's blessings on her life and feels hurt. I ache for them all. Is there anything I can do besides listen, support and encourage?
Aeeshah Ababio-Clottey and Kokomon Clottey: Your request has many layers. First is the grandfather who is refusing a wonderful gift—his grandchild. Secondly is your niece and her African-American husband.
Thirdly is the child caught between two cultures. And lastly, you, whose heart aches so much inside for issues as ancient as time.
We know from experience that exploring these issues can be a painful process, but not exploring them can be life-threatening. The work that you are doing is serving your entire family, your brother, his grandchild, and your niece. We believe that when we are healed we are never healed alone. Therefore, there is something you can do besides listen, support, and encourage.
As we move into the new millennium more and more people will be faced with these issues. Census surveys show that the number of interracial married couples in the United States jumped from 149,000 in 1960 to 1.35 million in 1998, even though total marriages rose far less dramatically (from 40.5 million to 55.3 million) during those years. Marriages between African-Americans and whites accounted for 51,000 of those couples in 1960 and 330,000 in 1998. The point is that this increase is due to overturning miscegenation laws. As recent as 1977, interracial marriage was unacceptable.
As we wrote in our book, "Beyond Fear," "The concept of race is a social and cultural construction. Race simply cannot be tested or proven scientifically," according to the American Anthropological Association. The idea of race is something that humans made up to divide and separate people. We define racism as a life-threatening illness that we are all dying from. We can relieve ourselves of this malady by taking personal responsibility for our own healing process.
We can only heal by joining with others. We are never healed alone. Having said that, by asking for help for this problem that your niece is faced with you are creating a healing balm for your brother and your niece. Your personal healing process is intricately connected to theirs. The underpinning of this approach is not to change other people. However, once you are completely committed to your healing and seriously begin to remove the blocks and impediments that cloud your peace and happiness, shift happens. We are deeply aware that the road to racial healing requires us to let go of our painful past. We must be like a Sankofa bird, an ancient mythology from the Akan Tribe of Ghana, West Africa. This ancient bird reaches back, picks up its past and cleanses it as it moves forward. We must do the same. To cleanse our past we must forgive and let go. In order to forgive we must open our hearts to compassion and love. When we forgive, we heal the past, which allows us to be more fully in the present, so we can then move harmoniously forward. Speak to your niece of forgiveness and allow the forgiveness you share with your niece to flow into your heart for your brother and for your ancestors.
Let us not be afraid to explore the past. Looking at the past through the eyes of forgiveness is one way we can stop the pain, fear, and guilt of our painful collective history from destroying the present. Lao Tzu—the Chinese philosopher said, "The wholeness of life has from of old, been made manifest in its parts." Wear this metaphor as a badge of honor to remind you to look on the whole of life rather than the fragments. As the Bible says, "For as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body." And as you truly embrace the belief that the essence of your being is love, include all of your family, your community, and the world as part of that essence.
Seven things you can do to help heal racism:
1. I will do my best to put into practice in my daily life these three spiritual principles.
We can learn to love others and ourselves by forgiving rather than judging.
We can become love finders rather than fault-finders.
We can focus on the whole of life rather than the fragments.
2. I will work to understand that admitting that racism is a problem is the first step that I take toward recovery and healing.
3. I will learn more about cultures and ethnic groups that I consider to be the "other."
4. I will strive to be open-minded by practicing the art of nonjudgmental acceptance of racial and ethnic differences.
5. I will speak up when I hear someone make a racist remark, while endeavoring to see this as a call for help, and coming from a place of compassion.
6. I will acknowledge my attitudes and beliefs that are based in racial prejudice and bigotry.
7. I believe that who I am and what I believe are valuable; therefore I know I can make a difference, and I intend to do my part to bridge the gap of racial divide.
Aeeshah Ababio-Clottey and Kokomon Clottey are the authors of "Beyond Fear: Twelve Spiritual Keys to Racial Healing." Aeeshah is founder and executive director of the Attitudinal Healing Connection, Inc., in Oakland, California. She focuses on racial healing for professional and lay communities via workshops, trainings, and support groups. She is also a consultant at the Center for Attitudinal Healing. Kokomon was born to the Ga-Adagbe Tribe in Accra, Ghana, West Africa. He is a medicine man, drummer, and interpreter of the tribe's wisdom and rituals. He's cofounder of the Attitudinal Healing Connection, Inc., and cofounder of the Center for Attitudinal Healing in Ghana, West Africa.
Caring for Mom
I have been estranged from my mother for many years. A year ago, she moved to the city where I live to be closer to me during her final years. She is increasingly debilitated with Alzheimer's. I check on her daily and tend to her errands. Always irritable and critical, her personality is becoming more difficult to deal with. She has driven everyone away and turned to me, her only daughter, to care for her. I will provide for her, but this will be one of the biggest challenges of my life. Some days I think I can't stand it. How can I get through this?
Harriet Sarnoff Schiff: You are in a very difficult situation. I want you, first of all, to understand you are not alone. This is, indeed, a time of great anguish for any son or daughter. I certainly understand your mother's irritability. It has been my experience that people do everything the way they do everything. As you said, her irritability is nothing new—just more of the same. It is so hard on the family when a parent drives everyone away, but it is unrealistic for you to carry the entire burden alone if you have siblings. Do they live in the same town? If so, please establish a schedule with them. If you assign specific tasks—like please pick up the prescription for Mom, you will find people (even those driven away) will help out because they are not being overwhelmed with the enormity of Mom's situation in its entirety. You are just asking people to carry a piece of the responsibility.
If family members are away, I believe you need to let them know that at the very least you need their moral support because you are the primary caregiver. You need them to call you and write to you and find out what is happening so you have someone to air your frustration with. If you are married it is unrealistic to dump all of this on a spouse. Please remember this and value your marriage.
Also, you might well need to think ahead. Look to the future and begin to consider nursing facilities that can help Mom; there are special places that work well with Alzheimer's patients. Begin to look around now before you need to deal with this issue as an emergency. Decisions that must be made in haste are often inappropriate, so consider your options now and look for alternatives.
Be kind to yourself and remember to do something daily that is pleasurable. Meditate. Read something that gives you satisfaction. Journal, because it is always wise to write what you are feeling. You can then look back at what you've written and feel a release of tension.
In the final analysis, you have been given a gift. You are taking care of Mom. If you do the things necessary for yourself to find peace at some place in your day you will ultimately become a better caregiver. When you look back on Mom's life after she is gone, that can afford you enormous peace. You have an opportunity to grow with this experience and lend dignity to Mom and yourself in the process. Please take advantage of this opportunity and use it wisely. My best to you.
Harriet Sarnoff Schiff is the author of "How Did I Become My Parent's Parent?," "The Bereaved Parent," "Living through Mourning," and "The Support Group Manual." More recently, as corporate admissions coordinator for 13 nursing homes, she has worked with admissions personnel and social workers. She lives in Birmingham, Michigan.
Finding What's Missing
I'm a 46-year-old professional woman. I have a good heart and people like me. However, my career is not thriving and my love life is the same. I've always yearned for a long-term committed relationship, which hasn't happened. I've tried it all—spiritual practices, psychotherapy, yoga, reading transformational books. I've come to terms with my life, yet still feel something is missing. Must I just accept what is or can I do something to move beyond surviving into thriving?
Ronald Mann: You sound like a sophisticated individual. I am assuming that your efforts in "trying it all" have been sincere, in-depth work at both emotional and spiritual levels. A few months spent in any psychotherapy or spiritual practice is a good beginning, but not enough time to accomplish much. Since it takes years of early childhood experiences to establish our personality, it takes a few years of dedicated work to change those patterns and learned behaviors.
My guess is that you may be too passive in your approach to your professional life and love life.
Relationships take one hundred percent commitment and a lot of work. They do not just happen—you make them happen! You might want to consider how much initiative you bring to your love life. How much are you willing to engage in the process? How much are you willing to give?
On a more philosophical note, there are always hidden karmic factors involved in our lives. Life is not always as it appears on the surface. As you probably know, we are here to grow spiritually and realize our true Divine nature. Given that most of us have been working on this lesson for many, many incarnations, we bring a lot of history with us that affects us in this lifetime. Often, it seems that there is some unseen wall or force keeping us from our goals and desires. These current circumstances are the result of our past actions and past decisions from this life and before.
My advice to you is never give up. There is a balance between accepting life as it is "right now" and continuing to strive for personal improvement. Along with the psychological work, you need to change your karma as well. Preconditions have established this current life circumstance. If you want to change your life, you need to commit one hundred percent of your energy to do so. Don't give up and don't lose hope for more abundance in your life. Use more advanced yogic techniques that transmute energy and change karma along with the psychological changes you may need to make. I have discussed this in detail in my book, "Sacred Healing."
Don't try to accomplish these changes on your own. Invite God into your life for help. Sometimes, difficult circumstances exist to teach us to turn to God for help. After all, this is a spiritual school. So talk to God every day and say, "Listen God, I did not make this world. I did not even ask to be created. You created all this and you can certainly help change my life. I am doing everything I can to improve my life. I can't do this on my own." Thus, the first thing I would do is to deepen your connection with God and feel His/Her presence as an active part of your life. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and then all things will be added unto you."
The feeling you described—"something is missing"—may be your connection to God. You may be looking outside of yourself for something that your soul longs for: divine love. Most of us feel some sense of emptiness when we feel separate from God. Meditation, devotion, service, and prayer are the means for deepening your relationship with God. It has been said, "God is a jealous god." I believe that this means that God wants us to love Him or Her above all else. In deepening that love, all desires can be fulfilled and the longing for something outside tends to vanish.
Of course, being successful in your professional life and fulfilled in your love life are natural and appropriate desires. The paradox is that the more we focus on deepening our relationship with God, the more peace and contentment we bring to every aspect of our life. You can increase your ability to fulfill your desires as you discover the power of your soul to manifest. Your soul, in alignment with God, can bring things into your life much more effectively and efficiently than your personality or ego. Your spiritual power is great. Learn to use it and apply it to every aspect of your life. God's grace can change any aspect of your life. Use your life circumstance to go deeper into Spirit. Any moment could be the final end to eons of karma. You never know when you have reached a critical mass and circumstances will change. You say that "I've tried it all." You sound like you have stopped doing those things that will lead to success. Never give up!
There is a fine line between "accepting what is" and "doing something to change our circumstances." Acceptance should not mean defeat and resignation. Acceptance should be a dynamic state in which we are fully present with our current circumstance without any desire or attempt to push it away or believe we are trapped by it. Life is always changing. The mystery is that as we give up "trying to do something," from an ego point of view, the soul's capacity to shift circumstances through the power of consciousness is activated. The paradox is, the less you do, the more will happen.
Ronald L. Mann, Ph.D., author of "Sacred Healing: Integrating Spirituality with Psychotherapy," provides individual coaching services for personal development, spiritual transformation, business management, and golf performance.
Dreaming about Snakes
I have recorded and discussed dreams for the past 10 years. For the past couple of years I have been dreaming about snakes. I am in a dream group and others have had snake dreams also. The feedback from the group has been invaluable. These dreams seem significant and I am seeking additional input about snakes as a symbol and/or ways to approach the dreams.
Robert Moss: The snake in dreams may represent many things: a sexual energy, a possible enemy or deceiver, the rising of Kundalini, a power of healing and transformation—or the entirely literal snake you could meet by the creek or in the basement next week. A woman in my native Australia dreamed that a highly poisonous snake slipped into her kitchen via an open window above the sink. Dream analysts, especially Freudians, might have had a field day psychologizing her dream. But in fact her dream was a quite specific rehearsal for an incident that took place in her home the following day, when a poisonous snake entered her kitchen via an open window above the sink. This dream may still have symbolic resonance, but the symbolism is located in events played out in waking life.
If your dreams were my dreams, I would try to go back inside them, explore them more deeply, and dream them onward. I am convinced that the full meaning of dreams lies inside the dream experience itself (which is not to be confused with our often broken or blurred memory of the dream). Through the technique of dream re-entry, as explained in my book "Conscious Dreaming," we can learn to travel quite fluidly into other orders of reality and gain direct access to powerful sources of insight and healing. We can invite others to travel with us into our dreams capes, which often produces rich experiences of telepathy or group dreaming. You might find this practice a marvelous adventure for your dream group.
Your experiences lead me to think about snake medicine and the symbol of the caduceus, the serpent-staff of healing. The snake is a mascot and companion of Asklepios, the Greek god of healing, and his caduceus is still the favorite logo for physicians and medical caregivers. Asklepios, to be quite specific, is the patron of dream healing. You go to his precinct not only to seek diagnosis and prescription, but in hopes of receiving a big dream that, in itself, may bring through the healing. In the ancient world, to be allowed entry into the sacred dormitory (abaton) of the god, you had (a) to release yourself from your old habits and expectations, through purification and (b) produce a dream of invitation. In the sanctuary, you were required to overcome fear by lying down among the serpents of the god (quite harmless, but unsettling nonetheless). During the night, the healing power might come through in the form of a snake, as well as in other forms—animal, human, divine.
The serpent sheds its skin, and its teaching is that we, too, can slough off our old lives, our self-limiting beliefs, and even our unwanted physical symptoms. The serpent also lives in the body of the Earth and connects us to the realm of the Great Mother. The serpent rising may be the Kundalini power that is at once highly sexual and yet capable of connecting us to the divine and of channeling immense healing energy for others. Maybe the snake in your dreams is calling you to realize your own potential as healer and transformer. May you live your best dreams!
Robert Moss is a dream explorer, novelist, and historian. His many books include "Conscious Dreaming," "Dreamgates" and "Dreaming True: How to Dream the Future and Create Better Futures," which will be published by Pocket Books in spring 2000. He is also the author of the Sounds True audio training program "Dream Gates: A Journey into Active Dreaming." He leads courses in dreamwork, shamanism and creativity all over the world.
My husband of many years and I have been long-term spiritual seekers. In recent years, our paths have separated. I have serious reservations about the direction he is taking. Although I know I must remain faithful to my own spiritual journey, I find it difficult to pursue my own course because he is critical of any path other than his. I love him, yet life together is increasingly painful. I am in my 50s and fear that we are headed for divorce. Can you offer any guidance?
Jim Rosemergy: One of the great joys of life is sharing the spiritual journey with someone we love. It seems you and your husband have experienced the joy of the journey. Undoubtedly, your common beliefs have helped you face life's challenges. Can you remember a time when you talked late into the night? Your loving attention to one another made time stand still, and your souls were more deeply joined together. This experience can be yours again. In fact, as you move through this challenging time, your relationship can become stronger than ever before.
I remember years ago when my family gathered for my uncle's funeral. The evening after the service, my cousin and I sat on the living room floor and talked into the night. Our spiritual paths were different, very different. I don't remember what we said, not a single word, but I will always remember the time we shared. Out of our grief, we found common ground that allowed something divine to emerge from within each of us.
You can find this common ground. From what you have written, it appears you do have something in common—neither of you accepts the other's path. The truth is we do not know what is best for another person's spiritual unfoldment. It is challenging enough to determine the steps we are to take on our closer walk with God. And besides, all paths ultimately lead to the same divine center.
A good next step would be to look for what brings you together. Any two people on the spiritual journey can find positive, common ground because it is there. Here's a suggestion: Quit trying to probe one another's spiritual beliefs or to discuss spiritual concepts. Instead, begin to share your spiritual journeys with each other. I have found that my beliefs are not that important because they change. My spiritual practices are not the true jewel of my quest. However, mystical experiences, sacred moments, crossroads, and life-changing decisions are the heart and soul of the journey. These are where we are wed to one another. Share with your husband a time when you felt close to God. Ask him to share a similar experience. What part of your spiritual journey challenges you? Tell him, and ask if you can help him with his doubts and fears.
Muslims, Jews, Christians, and Buddhists—in fact, all the people of the world—have different beliefs and rituals, but there is a great likeness in what we experience. We all ask, "How do I know when I'm divinely guided? How do I forgive? If God loves me, why don't I feel this love? Does life have meaning?"
Can you see the common ground? Can you feel it beneath your feet? Dear friend, forget the path you are currently on and experience the passion of the journey. Beliefs are overrated. Living and sharing the journey causes us to fall in love with one another.
Finally, one of you needs to take the first step back by accepting the other. This is love's first action—acceptance. Accept your husband as he is and don't ask that he change. You may find that suddenly he is accepting you as well, but if he does not, be true to your journey by accepting him. Share the heart of the journey, and you may find yourselves sharing your hearts with one another again.
Jim Rosemergy is the author of nine books, including his most recent, "A Quest For Meaning, Living A Life Of Purpose," writes a monthly column for Unity Magazine called "The Spiritual Journey," and has published several audiocassette albums. He is also an active speaker, workshop, and retreat facilitator. He was ordained a Unity minister in 1976 and served churches for over 14 years. In 1987, he was elected president of the Association of Unity Churches. He is now an executive vice-president of the Unity School of Christianity.
Please give me some guidance. I'm a 45-year-old married man and deeply committed to my spiritual life. I've got a problem I can't resolve. As the years go by I find myself more attracted to the youthful beauty of women in their 20s and less satisfied with my middle-aged wife's physique. I remain faithful to my wife but this is creating serious problems in me and with my marriage.
Steven Harrison: If we are truly committed to a spiritual life, then we must also be committed to honesty, wherever it leads. A relationship to another human being is a tremendous opportunity for discovery, but it can also be used to avoid contact with the rest of life.
Most relationships are built upon mutual security. I'll love you, if you love me. They become complex codes of behavior in which we tend to lose the essence of our contact with each other. Then along comes a young woman or man, vital, fresh, not encumbered by the labyrinth behavioral codes we have with our spouse.
We want this fresh quality, we want the youth, we want the sex. We could have a secret affair. We could divorce and remarry. Or, we could repress our feelings and live the resulting quiet desperation of an unfulfilled life. But none of these responses are satisfactory.
Why don't we stand absolutely still in the middle of all of this and discover what is actually occurring? What happens if we don't act or repress? Why don't we reveal all that is happening in our lives to all of those in our lives? This is a radically direct relationship to ourselves, our spouses and to the object of our new attraction, which demands total integrity and communication.
Is our current relationship based in honesty and spiritual transformation? Can our current relationship absorb the fact that we are experiencing attractions to others? Do we live in a relationship of freedom, responsibility and transparency with each other, or do we have a treaty based on security? If we throw out all of our agreements, is there love? Is there fear? If we met each other now, as if for the first time, how would we construct our relationship and why?
And how would we enter into an honest relationship with a new person to whom we find ourselves attracted? Would we encounter this new person in a new way or would we again begin to construct agreements of security? Would we flirt by hiding our flaws? Would we court by hiding our wife or husband? What happens to the magical charge of the new relationship if it is openly exposed to the old relationship? What if the whole game is made transparent; do we still want to play the game?
My response to your question is this: Honesty will challenge your marriage. Honesty may deepen your marriage. Honesty may destroy your marriage. But honesty will reveal precisely the fact of your life. This honesty applies not just to your communication with others, where the idea of radical honesty often becomes a narcissistic way of dominating others. Honesty must also apply to your understanding of your own motivations and ultimately to the very nature of the construction of your self as separate from life. In the end, transformation is the movement of change in life; honesty is just the messenger.
Steven Harrison is a long-time student of the nature of consciousness and has traveled extensively and studied a wide variety of meditation and spiritual practices. He is a founder of All Together Now International, a charitable organization that provides aid to street children and the destitute in Nepal and Tibet. Harrison is the author of "Doing Nothing: Coming to the End of the Spiritual Search," "Being One: Finding Our Self in Relationship," and the just-released "Getting To Where You Are: A Life of Meditation." All author profits from Harrison's books are donated to charity. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.
I've been involved with a wonderful man for three years. There is so much right about our relationship and we love one another deeply. Unfortunately, there's a hitch. I'm ready to get married and he believes the relationship is better without commitment, saying that marriage ruins love relationships. We live together and he wants to continue as we are. In my heart, I don't feel that is true, and want a marriage partnership. What should I do?
Charlotte Sophia Kasl: Before I address your question directly, I'd like to say a few words about commitment. True commitment comes from the heart and cannot be forced. It's not so much that we "make" a commitment as that two people are led by a desire to deepen their connection or bond. Commitment provides a protective boundary around a couple that helps build a cornerstone of trust. It's like closing the escape hatches and saying I'm willing to face whatever it takes to stay present to my partner—to stay steady through conflict, differences, hurts, and joys. This includes committing to a deep level of awareness of one's motivation—those slippery ways we sidestep our anger, placate, or use subtle forms of guilt or withdrawal to control our partner or have power in the relationship.
Because I can only speculate on your situation, I will pose some questions for you to explore, so you can find your own answer.
My first questions are about the level of commitment of your existing relationship. Are you committed to monogamy? To being long-term partners? To being life-long partners? To talking over conflict and being willing to seek help if you reach an impasse? Is there talk of children, owning a dwelling place together? You say you love each other deeply. How is this love reflected in your daily lives? Do you both keep agreements with great care? Do you both want what is best for the other, or are there problems with jealousy and possessiveness? Is your sexual relationship alive with tenderness, passion, and honesty? Are you able to say how you feel or ask for what you want, and do you both listen to each other? Does your partner show delight in seeing you?
While you can explore the possible reasons for your partner not wanting the commitment of marriage, the reasons won't necessarily change the fact that you want marriage and he doesn't. Even so, there might be some roadblocks that can be explored to see if the possibility exists.
His generalization that marriage ruins love relationships keeps the conversation distant, theoretical, and impersonal. Ask your partner if he will explore his fear of commitment at a personal level. Do his fears come from personal experience? Does he fear losing his identity, feeling swallowed up, or being trapped? Is there a loyalty conflict between his relationship to you and members of his family? If he can articulate some of these fears, it might be possible to move through them. Sometimes these fears reflect a person who is afraid he won't be able to speak up for what he wants, or set limits and boundaries. All of these concerns suggest a need to complete developmental tasks from childhood so one is not controlled by one's family or origin. The other question, which is difficult to pose, is to find out if he has specific reservations about marrying you in particular.
Hopefully your partner will sit down and open himself to these questions, but if he will not talk personally and maintains his stance, your task is to accept the truth of the situation. You can either stay with him without the bond of marriage, or let go of the relationship. You say in your letter that he says he wants to continue as you are, but in your heart, you don't feel that is true. You need to take his words at face value and not second-guess him. It's easy to think that because you want the marriage so much, he must want it too. But if he says he doesn't, try to understand him and not negate what he says.
You can also look at your motivation for marriage. Do you want marriage because it fulfills a desire to have a public and legal commitment to each other and to celebrate the relationship openly and to commit as life partners? Be sure your desire for marriage is coming from confidence in the relationship as it is, and not based on hoping it will somehow change. Do you accept him as he is now? Only you know the answers to these questions.
Do not force a commitment. If he marries you out of guilt or because he is afraid of losing you, it is likely to cast a shadow over the relationship that will haunt you in the future. Ultimately you must make a decision. If he won't commit to marriage, and you definitely want someone who will, you need to leave him. Don't bargain with yourself and hang on for security or comfort. That is the opiate of relationships and costs you dearly in many ways—body, mind, and spirit. It is extremely painful to leave a relationship, but it also creates an opening for something better.
So be clear with him, and clear with yourself. Ask, but don't demand, stay grounded in reality as opposed to illusions, and live by your deepest wisdom. I wish you the best.
Charlotte Sophia Kasl, Ph.D., has been a practicing psychotherapist, workshop leader, Quaker, and Reiki healer for twenty years. She has had a long-time involvement with feminism, Eastern spiritual practices, and alternative healing, bringing a holistic approach to all her work. Her books include "Finding Joy," "Many Roads, One Journey," and "Women, Sex, and Addiction: A Search for Love and Power." She lives near Missoula, Montana.
Finding Ms. Right
I am a 47-year-old male and have been divorced for several years. I yearn for a committed relationship. I recently ended a six-month relationship. I knew it wasn't right because she didn't communicate, but I so want to remarry that I overlooked her avoidance of intimate talk until the relationship simply faded away. What do I do now to be in the kind of relationship I desire?
Cherie Carter-Scott: You said the woman you have been in a relationship with didn't communicate. My response to you has several different parts, which require you to be honest with yourself. Authenticity, after all, is about being real. After you answer the following questions, you should have some new insight about yourself and your behaviors. It sounds like you are willing to take responsibility for the situation. Therefore, you are in the perfect place to learn about how you were drawn to the type of situation that you were just in.
You seem to know what you want, at least one aspect. Are there other aspects regarding a relationship that are important to you?
When did you discover that this woman didn't communicate?
Did you stay in the relationship for six months because this woman had other attributes, or was your vision clouded by rose-colored glasses, denying the reality of the situation?
Did you communicate to her what was important to you?
If you did, how did she respond?
Were you having conversations in your head about her that she was not a part of?
Were you hoping she would change, believing that time would open the doors to intimacy, thinking her priorities would change?
Are you seeking the right person in the wrong place?
Are you behaving in the manner in which you envision your ideal partner behaving in a relationship?
Are you willing to be clear about what you want, what you will and won't tolerate in a relationship?
There are several things you need to do at this point:
Think about and honestly assess the thoughts, feelings, and ideas generated by the questions asked. Are there behaviors you want to change for future relationships? You can change any behavior by following these six steps:
- Become aware of what you are doing.
- Acknowledge what you notice.
- Make the choice to change those behaviors.
- Strategize an action plan.
- Commit to your choice.
Then take steps to prepare for future relationships. Make a list of the criteria you must have in a partner, criteria you can take or leave, and what you absolutely will not tolerate. Use the list when you meet any new possible candidate. Trust yourself and honor your instincts.
Then ask the hard questions. These range from religion to personal philosophies to finances. This will encourage you to find out what you need to know early on, without hoping things will change with time. Be careful not to deny your truth. It is easy to feel good in the beginning of a relationship with "other" qualities while pretending that your new partner doesn't lack one of your essential criteria. This sounds similar to your situation. You are not alone.
Build intimacy by sharing hopes, wishes, and dreams.
You sound like a good soul who deserves to have a meaningful, committed, authentic, loving, joyous, and healthy relationship. If you learn the lessons from this experience—know what works for you, know what you want, trust yourself, notice and address the clues you receive, and don't settle for something that is "sort of" OK, denying the truth of your preferences—then you will surely find the love you are seeking.
Cherie Carter-Scott, Ph.D., is a motivational speaker, management consultant, trainer, coach, seminar leader, and author of two best-sellers, "Negaholics" and "If Life Is a Game, These Are the Rules," as well as several other books. She founded The Motivation Management Service Institute, Inc., which specializes in personal growth training programs and workshops for the corporate and private sector worldwide, in 1974. She lives with her husband and daughter in Nevada.